A Better Bulb

A Chinese Clone of the Nikon MC-36 Remote Timer and Intervalometer
JYC’s “version” of the Nikon MC-36

It is 2012. What is with the Bulb setting?

Last week, while I was working on a series of long exposure photographs, a thought occurred to me. It is the year 2012, why are we still fiddling with external remotes and timers, and a setting called “Bulb”?

The “Bulb” term comes from the act of squeezing an air bulb to mechanically activate and open the camera’s shutter. Guess how old is that method. No cheating people. Was it 40 years ago, during the heyday of the mechanically operated 35mm film SLRs? Was it 60 years ago, during the rangefinder’s last hurrah? Or was it 90 years ago, when 4×5 press cameras were the norm?

Actually, try almost 120 years ago, back to the late 19th century. That’s how old it is.

With modern digital cameras possessing a large colour LCD screen, a set of navigation controls in the form of a directional pad or a joystick, and advanced electronics with modern CPUs, why are we still fiddling around with such anachronistic tools and names when we want to make long exposures? Why is it not all built into the camera, and given a new name as well?

Implementation of such feature is not terribly hard – once the user activates the “Long Exposure” setting, in the same way as Bulb was previously accessed, a configuration screen can be brought up when pressing the Menu key (pressing it again will go to the standard menu). From the configuration screen, the user can set the parameters for the exposure, like the length of the exposure, whether the mirror should flip up first, and so on. If the user wants to emulate the old bulb mode for some reason, like photographing fireworks, the camera will honour that as long as a remote is used to trigger the camera instead of the on-camera shutter release button.

I am sure there is some tweaking needed for the above concept, but it is certainly doable. Nikon already implements an intervalometer into their higher-tier DSLRs, rendering expensive accessories such as the Nikon MC-36 mostly useless anyway. The first company that does this will get plenty of goodwill and mindshare among photographers, as well as future customers. So who is going to be adventurous enough to try this?

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